Our Story

The History & Future of Castlecomer Discovery Park
Visitor Information

Our Story

Set in the former grounds of the Wandesforde Estate, Castlecomer Discovery Park comprises of 80 acres of stunning natural woodland and lakes. It began as a community project to rejuvenate the town of Castlecomer following the closure of the coal mines in 1969.

This relatively ‘young’ park opened to the public in 2007 with the launch of the Coal Mining Exhibition, Visitor Centre and Design Craft studios which are located in the former stable yard. The Park continues to evolve and is actively developing a range of exciting recreational, cultural and educational activities for visitors of all ages.

The Park has grown from strength to strength since it first opened. Attracting thousands of visitors each year with over 120,000 in 2016. Castlecomer Discovery Park won the 2015 Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce Business Award for Culture/Heritage Tourism.

We are also listed as ‘One of the Three Best Family Attractions in Leinster’ 2012, 2013, and are also among the top 5 attractions listed in Kilkenny on Trip Advisor. Most recent we are winners of the RDS Community Forestry Award with Coillte in 2017.

The park is a social/community enterprise and acts on a Non-Profit basis. It was set up to promote rural tourism, and what has been achieved by the community and voluntary efforts is astonishing and any financial surpluses generated are reinvested into the Park because after all, we are ‘Yours to enjoy’.

Spot the Difference – Drag the Arrows to see the difference between 1998 and 2008 Castlecomer Discovery Park!

1998 - Castlecomer Discovery Park2008 - Castlecomer Discovery Park

Our History

Castlecomer Discovery Park stands on the site of what was once part of the Wandesforde Estate, for over 300 years. Originally from Yorkshire, the family were descendants of Christopher Wandesforde who came to Ireland in 1636. Mining in Castlecomer began in the mid 17th Century with the extraction of iron ore. The Wandesforde family were responsible for the opening up of a number of coal seams and over time earned quite a large fortune from coal mining. In 1865, miners started to find strange animal fossils among the coal. William Booking Brownrigg, a scholar, came to examine them and he found something much more significant, the remains of ancient amphibians.

Charles Darwin published his book ‘On the Origin of Species’ in 1859 just 6 years before the discovery of the amphibian fossils near Castlecomer. In it he outlined his theory of the evolution of animals through natural selection. He was strongly criticised by many scientists because he dared to contradict the teachings of the church and it was many years before his teachings were widely accepted.

Castlecomer House, the family home was located on the opposite side of the N78 road. The original house was built in 1638 and was burned down during the Battle of Castlecomer in 1798. A bigger house was built in its place in 1802 during the time of Lady Anne Ormonde. Most of the building was demolished in 1975 as it was no longer in use and had fallen into disrepair. Nothing now remains of the house. The Visitor Centre is located in what was originally the farm yard and kitchen gardens of the estate. The stables and many of the farm buildings have been restored and now house the craft units and the education facilities. The original walled garden is now home to a small herd of Fallow and Sika Deer, a flock of Jacob Sheep, Charlie the hand reared pig and sometimes Arthur the donkey!

The Future

Promoting the development of the park as a multi-activity woodland park is an act of preserving the legacy of the former ‘leisure park’. The strategic plans and current work of this ‘young park’ are focussed on ensuring the park can continue its trajectory of providing amenities for locals, students and families. The restoration of the bridges, along with the installation of the pit head wheel, highlights the rich cultural and industrial heritage of the Castlecomer Discovery Park.

This is what gives the park its unique identity and promotes a sense of pride amongst locals and their families. It is also an example of what can be achieved with vision and commitment to restore the park to its former glory when support is made possible from the various bodies and agencies.